Blake Comeau has moved on to the Dallas Stars after a 3-year stint with the Avs and in his place we find Matt Calvert. Like Comeau was when he was signed, Calvert is an experienced grinder and penalty killer in his late 20’s. Add some cap inflation and they signed pretty much identical contracts when they joined the club. Coaches love this type of player and with the Avs failure to develop prospects into depth roles over the last decade+ they have been forced to go buy them at a premium on the free agent market.
Drafted 14 years ago by the Islanders in the 2nd round, he had a few good seasons there including 24 goals in 2011 but ended up bouncing around for a while before joining the Avs. In three seasons in Colorado he was consistently around 6th in forward ice time and scoring while playing on the top penalty killing pair.
Drafted 10 years ago by the Jackets in the 5th round, he played his entire pro career with the CBJ org until now. In his last 3 years with Columbus he was consistently 11th-12th in forward ice time and slightly higher than that in scoring, also while playing top 2 minutes on PK.
Right off the bat the main differences are that Calvert is a 4th line forward while Comeau played top 6 or close to that. Comeau also scored on average 10 more points per season, albeit in 10 more games. We need to go deeper though.
It’s tough to compare players across teams, I don’t like Relative stats for this purpose for various reasons so I’m just going to go with rates and team ranks (among forwards) from last season. Just be aware that Columbus shoots the puck far more often than Colorado does.
Legend: i – individual, CF – shot attempts for, xGF – expected goals for, G – goals, P – points, CA -shot attempts against, xGA – expected goals against, Sh% – shooting percentage, Sv% – save percentage
For the purposes of these profiles, I’m just looking relative to forwards that played 200+ minutes last season. The Avs had 14, the Jackets had 17. For the PK it was 60+ minutes and the Avs had 6, Jackets 7.
The first thing that stands out is the TOI, a minute and a half per game is significant. Calvert’s TOI would have had him 10th on the Avs last year, so the usages line up there. The biggest difference is in individual expected goals, or quality chance development. Calvert was good on the Jackets there but that rate would have been 2nd behind only MacKinnon in Colorado. That’s a system thing and won’t continue but he does have the ability to create a volume of quality if needed, which is nice.
Here is where we get into some interesting conundrums and a good place to start tearing down the differences between Torts and Bednar’s coaching styles. Their on-ice shot attempt rates are virtually identical yet Calvert’s xGF blows Comeau’s out of the water. That rate is actually higher than Mack’s and would have been best on the Avs.
I’ve been doing research into what makes for high scoring teams and it’s not just volume, it’s capitalizing on quality chances. Even though Calvert’s on-ice goal rate is higher than Comeau’s, it’s only 0.914 goals per expected goal. Comeau had 1.054 goals per expected goal. Columbus was tied for 1st in the NHL in xG per hour and the Avs were 30th. The Avs were 2nd in the NHL in G/xG and the Jackets were 25th. Their goal per hour rates were close. It’s two ways to approach the same problem and I don’t think either club hit the optimum mix.
That said, it’s going to be interesting to see how Calvert reacts going from one extreme to the other. Can he keep his rates up in JB’s quality based system? If so, can that rub off on the rest of the guys?
Strangely enough, these two fellows also share similar shot attempt against rates. This time the advantage lies with Comeau having far fewer xGA per CA. This will also be a system issue that Calvert has to adapt to over the next few weeks, and a tougher one to boot. The disturbing numbers here are the goals against and save percentage. Since this is mirrored below in the PK as well, I suspect this might be a player flaw rather than a system deal. His shot rates are fine for where he played in the lineup but the scoring against were atrocious comparatively.
Ok, this is fun. Instead of having the same shot rates and wildly different xG, they have the same xG and wildly different shot rates. The kicker here is the goal against rate and associated sub-.800 save percentage, very troubling. Columbus had one of the worst PKs in the league and of course the Avs were one of the best. What we need to know is if this a system issue or is it because Calvert was so awful individually. It’s probably a little of both, a couple other CBJ players had brutal goal against rates. Bottom line, the Avs better have a plan B for the PK in case this wasn’t a system issue.
What we have here with Calvert taking Comeau’s place is a player that showed slightly better offensively but against easier competition. That could be a wash but we won’t know until we get into the regular season. A lot will depend on how the staff wants to use Calvert, more TOI could mean this is a noticeable offensive upgrade if he adapts quickly. The downside there is asking a 4th liner to suddenly become a dependable depth scorer like Comeau was. This is a gamble the Avs have made in the past and had mixed results with so the staff have to be prepared to make changes if they aren’t seeing what they expect.
Defensively, again we’re dealing with divergent systems, I think this will be a significant downgrade. That’s not to say that Calvert can’t adapt to how the Avs do things, it’s entirely possible that his style of play was not fruitful in Columbus’ system but will fit right in with Colorado. I’m very skeptical, both at 5v5 and on the penalty kill the numbers hint that he was indeed an issue there.
The pessimistic view is that we’ve got a wildly overpaid 4th liner that’s going to be asked to play over his head in several important facets of the team’s game. Add to that the questions about his durability, missing an average of 13 games each of the last 3 years, and this could backfire in a hurry. On the other hand, Bednar, Pratt & MacFarland are familiar with his game from their Jackets days and I’m sure would have put in no votes if they didn’t feel like he was being underutilized and would become more than he seems in Colorado. The stakes aren’t that high here, falling short is only a minor inconvenience so it seems like a fair gamble and holding on to Blake Comeau was no sure thing either.
Thanks as always to Natural Stat Trick, Corsica and the NHL for stats.